Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Brick Testament?

In response to an earlier post about the proposal that the government should take some financial responsibility for mantaining our church buildings, Phil Rankin said...

"Why should the government pay for this? If the building is no longer economically sustainable then sell it and move on. If the building is historically valuable then the National Trust and/or Heritage will be interested in maintaining it. Why should a government sustain buildings that in most cases a decreasing minority of people are using? When Alton Towers, or Tescos, or Sainsburys, or your local cinema needs repaired should the government be asked to pay for that too?"

Well I began to respond in the comments but it got rather LONG so here it is:

The government funds many things which do not, overtly, serve the whole population. The Church of England is still the established church of this country and as Richard has commented many people believe that the goevernment does fund churches. People often argue against money being spent on seemingly "worthless" things the dome, opera, the arts in general... the church? Well I know there are always going to be people who question spending money on things that over more than the "necessary" (John 12.4-8) and many think honouring God by building and maintaining impressive buildings that draw people to them would be such an unecessary expense.

Our building is enjoyed by MANY people during the week as a place of prayer particularly because it is an old building. I don't think any one them would seek out the cinema, or a supermarket for that quiet prayer time. Our town is currently experiencing a major redevelopment and it made me realise how the church is one of the only buildings in the town centre that isn't there to persuade people to spend money and consume. I think that's something worth saving.

I would agree that there are some buildings which are modern which can have that numenous feel to them but I think it is far more often in the buildings left to us by faithful worshipping Christians over the centuries which resound the prayers of the years gone by.

Why should we abandon that heritage? Why should Christians only meet together in modern buildings?

I think our churches have more than mere HISTORICAL value. I enjoy visiting old houses, castles etc but there is something DIFFERENT about a church that has been a place of Christian worship and witness for centuries.

I'm not saying ALL old churches have such value. Some have passed their usefulness and are not as alive with the spirit as others but there are many which are and the feeling is SO tangible, when you walk through the door, that God is with you that sometimes little else is needed but unfortunately the cost of maintaining some of these places is high.

I know that there is a lot of emphasis in the church on fresh expressions and on young people and I wholeheartedly support it but never at the expense of our heritage or indeed of faithful but elderly members of our churches. Why should old things, people or places, have no value?

To answer one of your specific proposals, Phil, you'll find that the National Trust don't really "do churches" and that English Heritage (which IS funded by the government and by the lottery) would say there is no way they can take on all the historic churches in this country with their current resources. Even if they could, if our churches WERE mainatined by "historical bodies" it would be the end of that place as a place of worship. The priorities of preservation societies are solely about maintaining the building and not its use for worship. Personally I would far rather see our churches be made MORE relevant to our society and used as places of worship than turned into moth-balled old relics of a time when we valued the contribution of those who went before us in honouring God.


Pete Lev said...

This is an interesting issue! In the London Baptist Association we too have many church communities left with buidlings froma different era, which cost a lot to maintain. And that's a pain! But buildings are a useful tool, and I'm amazed at how many of the "new" churches have been buying buildings!
On the other hand as a non-conformist
I can't buy the thought of the state interfering in such issues.
I think it's all part of finding our feet as churches in post-Christendom. But I would be wary of expecting the government to fund church buildings if we weren't willing for them to fund other religions and humanist meeting places!

Ray said...

"I would be wary of expecting the government to fund church buildings if we weren't willing for them to fund other religions and humanist meeting places!"

...Or indeed Baptist buildings. The petition referred specifically to Anglican churches.

I appreciate that not all church buildings need to be modern and there is a place for gothic monstrosities (even though the heating bill for one probably led to my unemployment) but I too am wary of state funding. At best we're still paying for it ourselves (but without the Gift Aid bonus). At worst we're giving those who are hostile to the church another excuse to resent us (and, as Pete said, opening the door to funding things that we would resent).

A quick look down the balance sheet of most PCCs with mouldering churches often shows that a slightly better understanding of the tything concept would probably solve the problem - and keep the church as a gift to the community, rather than a burden.

Richard said...

Couple of comments - firstly, English Heritage will only provide funds with conditions, and will also assess the local area, so in terms of our work in Finchampstead, we've been told that whatever the size of the Church, because the local community is rich, we would be unlikely to get funding.

With regards to Pete's comment, the petition is explicitly for Church of England churches.

There is actually a scheme for preserving redundant Churches of historical interest, for example the original Church building in Hartley Wintney is one such building, however the key issue is that they will only take redundant Churches, they won't fund existing churches that are used regularly.

EasyRew said...

I'm not a huge sentimentalist - and so the idea of spending *vast* amounts of money on maintaining buildings/structures simply "because they're old" makes no sense to me at all.

Something troubles me about one building being more "alive with the spirit" than another. I can't quite put my finger on it though.

I saw a news report yesterday about the £25 million conservation project to strip the Cutty Sark back to it's frame and then rebuild it in order to "preserve it" for future generations. My first thought was that if they strip it down that much and then rebuild it, surely it's not the original boat anyway, and would be cheaper to construct a replica. The second was about what an obscene waste of money it is. Imagine how much more productively that amount could be spent.

"Our building is enjoyed by MANY people during the week as a place of prayer particularly because it is an old building. I don't think any one them would seek out the cinema, or a supermarket for that quiet prayer time."

You wouldn't expect people to seek out a noisy place like a cinema or supermarket for a quiet prayer time. Surely they choose the Church primarily because it is quiet, not because it is old.

A newer, more cost efficient building could (and probably would) also be used by many people during the week. You could argue that a less "churchy" building might even attract a greater number of people.

EasyRew said...

Just seen this almost-related post about Church architecture over at Think Christian.

I particularly like the link to the slideshow about mega-church architecture.

Sarah Brush said...

Rich, I find difficulty with some churches feeling more "filled with the spirit" than others too but that's my experience. There are some church buildings (of varying age/newness) that you walk in and just FEEL something and others of equal variety in age when that doesn't happen. I don't think it is necessarily anything to do with age as such but in my experience it does tend to be in the older buildings. I know other people who experience this too and I can't quite explain it, if I'm honest. I've always put it down to a building being prayed in for years.

I do think that being an old building means people KNOW it's a church and that it's there for that. There is an amazingly modern church facility in our town (arguably two) but we get far more "footfall" than either of them I think. They have many people using their buildings for social outreach which is excellent but I think All Saints is the place people see as the place to go for prayer.

We are looking at the moment at making our church more suitable for visitors (toilets, kitchen, meeting rooms even offices) yet we also want to maintain the history of the place too.